Minimally verbal school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder: the neglected end of the spectrum

Autism Res. 2013 Dec;6(6):468-78. doi: 10.1002/aur.1329. Epub 2013 Oct 7.


It is currently estimated that about 30% of children with autism spectrum disorder remain minimally verbal, even after receiving years of interventions and a range of educational opportunities. Very little is known about the individuals at this end of the autism spectrum, in part because this is a highly variable population with no single set of defining characteristics or patterns of skills or deficits, and in part because it is extremely challenging to provide reliable or valid assessments of their developmental functioning. In this paper, we summarize current knowledge based on research including minimally verbal children. We review promising new novel methods for assessing the verbal and nonverbal abilities of minimally verbal school-aged children, including eye-tracking and brain-imaging methods that do not require overt responses. We then review what is known about interventions that may be effective in improving language and communication skills, including discussion of both nonaugmentative and augmentative methods. In the final section of the paper, we discuss the gaps in the literature and needs for future research.

Keywords: alternative and augmentative communication; behavioral intervention < intervention; early intervention < intervention; eye-tracking; minimally verbal ASD; school age < pediatrics; spoken language.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / complications*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / physiopathology
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / rehabilitation*
  • Early Intervention, Educational / methods*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Humans
  • Language Development Disorders / complications*
  • Language Development Disorders / physiopathology
  • Language Development Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Magnetoencephalography / methods
  • Nonverbal Communication / physiology
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology